[WATCH] Prostitution reform: Bonnici differentiates between consenting prostitutes and those forced into sex work

Equality Minister Owen Bonnici says sex workers must not be criminalised and legislation must be able to differentiate between consenting prostitutes and those coerced into sex work

Reforms Minister Owen Bonnici
Reforms Minister Owen Bonnici

Changes being contemplated by the government will ensure that sex workers are not criminalised, Owen Bonnici said as he drew a distinction between consenting prostitutes and those coerced into sex work.

Bonnici, who was only recently handed the equality ministry portfolio, gave no detail on the reform of prostitution being contemplated by the government but outlined the principles on which it will be based.

Significantly, he said a distinction had to be drawn between people who are forced into prostitution and others who engage in sex work willingly.

The Equality Minister took over the portfolio from Labour MP Rosianne Cutajar, who was not reappointed parliamentary secretary after the Standards Commissioner found that she breached ethics in failing to declare brokerage fees from the sale of a property involving 17 Black owner Yorgen Fenech.

Bonnici told MaltaToday on the fringes of a conference on human trafficking that once he was assigned his new role, he immediately spoke to the government-appointed technical committee dealing with the prostitution reform and the coalition of organisations that oppose any form of normalisation of sex work.

READ ALSO: New equality minister urged to change stance on decriminalising prostitution

Under Malta's current legal regime, prostitution is not illegal but loitering and living off the earnings of prostitution are.

“In my mind, it is clear that we should stop criminalising the work of prostitutes. We have to help these people, not punish them,” he said.

The minister said government will be pursuing a model, which helps the individuals who are loitering for sex work, and not punish them for it.

He also said that a distinction must be drawn between persons who are coerced into prostitution, and others who do it willingly.

Bonnici steered clear when asked whether government will be pursuing a specific model, such as the Nordic model proposed by the coalition.

“We have to keep in mind the principles that guide us - meaning sensible legislation that ensures no one is forced into something they don’t want to do, and anyone who is doing what they want is offered the best help,” he said. “For example, we have to ensure that they have access to safe medical services.”

Asked whether he would be making any changes to the ground work laid out by his predecessor Rosianne Cutajar, the minister said amendments will be discussed with Cabinet, and details will be given later.

Prostitution reform was part of government's electoral manifesto but so far no concrete proposal has been put forward for public discussion.

READ ALSO: Sex workers ‘with agency’ must be part of prostitution reform